What a week it has been for our great institutions in this country. From Downing Street and Westminster to Buckingham Palace and the Metropolitan Police, the mask has slipped on our pretend democracy to reveal an archaic and class-ridden system rigged by and for a narrow entitled elite, a caste of upper-class grifters who believe that they can behave just as they please, that the rules are for the little people and simply don’t apply to them. Even the usual flag-hugging sycophants and their establishment-protecting media cronies seem to have reached a limit of sorts.
With scandal piling upon scandal—from the Downing Street parties in flagrant breach of lockdown rules to the legal noose closing around Prince Andrew as fallout from the Epstein/Maxwell child sex abuse scandal—a light has been shone on our system, revealing the fact that our political institutions are not working in the interests of the vast majority of our people. In a functioning polity, this would be the occasion for a major constitutional reckoning; but in our pretend democracy it is simply an occasion for a rearrangement of the establishment deck-chairs, with stitch-up after stitch-up and leak after leak within the Tory Party, as government ministers scuttle around like rats not knowing whether to jump or cling on.
We have witnessed a Prince stripped of his titles, but whose legal defence against allegations of sexual abuse is being financed by our Head of State, whose ‘personal’ finances are inextricably bound up with those of the nation. We have seen a Prime Minister whose contempt for the rules and sense of entitlement leaves him clinging to office without shame for a set of offences which would historically have meant career-ending ignominious resignation. And we are witnessing a ‘what, who, me guv?’ shrug of indifference from the Metropolitan Police whose earlier excuses for not investigating Downing Street rested on a logic—they don’t investigate crimes that have taken place in the past!—that would have any first-year law student scratching their head.
Rarely is it so obvious that there are rules only for some in this country—and that there is a class of people who can basically do whatever they want without consequences. They take us for fools because of the contempt in which they hold ordinary people.
It’s the System, Stupid
The extent to which these scandals reveal that the whole system is rotten can be seen in the fact that it is only now, years after the fact, that these revelations are surfacing and this evidence is coming to light. And not as a result of checks and balances or because these people are being held to account in a healthy democracy, but because of the manoeuvrings of opaque factions within the ruling class, the right-wing press, and the state. This is not a democratic uprising, it’s a palace coup.
I have to say that the events of this week, however shocking, do not really surprise me in the slightest, following my eye-opening experience as Member of Parliament for Crewe and Nantwich between 2017 and 2019. This highly unexpected turn of events in my life provided me with a brief but incredibly instructive insight into the inner workings of our country at the highest levels. I was left without doubt that the great institutions of our country are filled with more secrets, deals, grubby corruption and cover ups than the average person on the street could ever imagine. Scandal after scandal has been buried over time in the interests of self-perpetuating cliques at the top; as the saying goes, ‘If only walls could talk!’
I was carried into Parliament somewhat by accident on the great anti-establishment wave of 2017 in a general election that was expressly called to annihilate the politics of people like me and all that I represent—an ordinary working-class woman with a background in teaching and local organising in my community. But amid all the confusion of Brexit, Theresa May badly misjudged that one. Instead of wiping out the movement that had arisen around Corbyn’s Labour Party, they allowed us to take our case to the country.
The result was the Corbyn Surge, an unprecedented turnaround in the opinion polls, a wave pollsters and pundits had never encountered before—and one the establishment has since been determined never to allow again. We didn’t win, but we upended the conventional wisdom in British politics, and the story of our politics ever since has been the concerted efforts of different sections of the British establishment to contain the fallout and put the genie back in the bottle. There is no other way to understand the way the Brexit/Remain divide was first used and then dropped in the Labour Party in the intervening period.
An Accidental MP
One result of the 2017 earthquake was that a number of ordinary people like myself were unexpectedly carried into Parliament on the back of the anti-establishment feeling that was rocking the country. As a result, we were inducted at least in part into the secrets of the temple, we got to see the Belly of the Beast, so to speak. I learned that what we have seen this week is not a bug but a feature of a system whose normal functioning is designed to preserve and protect power.
The moves we are seeing against Johnson at the moment are an indication of the weakness of our democracy, not its strength; other rival sections of the ruling class with shady motives are on the move because they can afford to be. The moment of maximum danger, from their viewpoint, has now passed. There is currently no democratic social movement to speak of waiting in the wings for them to fear.
When I was given the unexpected opportunity to enter into electoral politics, I had rolled up my sleeves and decided there was no saviour coming to save us. Thankfully the labour movement was again coming alive with likeminded thinkers and people organising for the necessary change. I kept focused, despite all of the internal battling in the Labour Party, including the attempted coups and endless lobby briefings and back-stabbing. The prize was too important to give up on: the possibility of having a government committed to delivering systematic change.
A school cuts campaigner, I saw myself then—and I continue to see myself now—as the exact opposite of a ‘career politician’. I never thought that I was going to win. I was just hoping to give the multi-millionaire government education minister who represented my hometowns a sharp reminder that he worked for his constituents and had neglected them for long enough. I wanted working-class women like me to feel they had a voice. My biggest hope was to politicise my community and organise them to feel empowered to hold their elected representatives to account.
In my mind, politicians didn’t sound like me, look like me, come from the places that I had come from. When becoming a qualified primary school teacher had been so difficult to achieve, there was no chance of becoming a Member of Parliament. I campaigned hard, but I was lucky to have caught the anti-establishment wave of 2017, and against all odds I did win. That gave me the opportunity to have a look into an incredible world that I never thought I would ever see. What I learned was truly shocking.
When I turned up at Portcullis House in Westminster the week after the election, I had barely been to London before, and I was entering Parliament for the very first time in my life—but as a newly-elected MP, representing my home towns. Walking around the huge and imposing Palace of Westminster, I found myself feeling like I had been enrolled at Hogwarts.
Imposter syndrome does not come close to how I felt that day. The language, the arrogance, the accents and obvious wealth oozed out of the walls. Elected into Parliament with my very average grades from my very humble background, I honestly thought that I was going to be surrounded by the brightest minds and political operators in the country—and for a while I was worried I’d be out of my depth.
I assumed that these people were more knowledgeable than me, and that I would be shown up for being the average-achieving poor girl that I always had been. On one of my first days a Tory MP with incredible shampoo-advert hair bounced over to me and laughed hysterically like a hyena because I had chewing gum in my mouth. Snobbery, pure and simple.
After about a week, I realised the place is full to the brim of entitled idiots with little-to-no concept of the real world that they are supposed to represent. They lack life experience. It is a game to many of them, and one they are rigging. It is simply not fit for purpose as the instrument of democratic governance for our country.
Bursting the Bubble
The grim reality is, there is very little going on behind many of the haughty looks and fake smiles. I was under an illusion that whether I agreed with these people politically or not, they were going to be intelligent political operators with huge levels of knowledge, whose parents had spent thousands and even hundreds of thousands preparing them to be in this role. The truth was the place is full of braying upper-class idiots, lacking life experience, human compassion or any real understanding of the lives of those that they are supposed to represent.
The parliamentary protocol and procedure is all designed to make them feel powerful, insulated and unreachable. Archaic and completely out of touch, the building is a place of beauty but one designed to express elite power rather than the power of the people. They certainly don’t want ordinary people there, and if they do sneak in, the place works its hardest to suck them in or chuck them out—with an incredible success rate, it has to be said.
Once I found my feet, I understood that I didn’t, in fact, want to fit in. I wanted to challenge everything that it stood for. Because, to me, it doesn’t work. It protects a system of inequality based on divide and rule. It has made law after law that has damaged the lives of ordinary working people, and I wanted no part in that.
But the Westminster bubble is no illusion. It is very much there and real. And the problem is that even many good people do not realise how firmly they are trapped within it. The question for us all is: how do we change it? Because change it we must.
The events of the past week are not an aberration but a revelation—they show what the institutions and people who govern us are really like. And the awful truth is the opposite of everything that the Westminster system is designed to make us feel. It is not that we are not good enough, but that the institutions and representatives are not good enough for us.
So, if we want to live in a democracy we are going to have to find a way to build one—a real one, and not the pretend one which, shorn of all its trappings and mystique, now stands exposed: a system of, by, and for an out of touch and unaccountable elite.
We deserve better. Who wants to help do something about it?